Josef Koudelka, the Czech-born photographer whose smuggled images defined the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet bloc in August 1968, is the focus of a visiting exhibition, Nationality Doubtful, at the Getty Center in Los Angeles through March 22, 2015. The exhibition also features Koudelka’s early work on photographing gypsies, his later panoramic photography and his recent images of the security wall in Israel and the West Bank.
The photographs of Prague are the highlight of the exhibition, and depict heroic protests against communism by an unarmed populace in the streets of the city. The images are timely on the one-year anniversary of the Maidan protests in Ukraine. Just as the West did little to stop the Soviet Union from crushing the Prague Spring, so, too the free world has barely offered any real assistance to Ukraine against invasion by Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Koudelka’s later work is more difficult to define. Unlike his Prague photographs, which focused on protestors and soldiers, Koudelka’s images of walls in the Middle East are largely devoid of people. Their subject is less the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and more the contrast between linear walls and curved landscapes, between contemporary concrete and ancient stone. The view from his lens is stark, but not overtly political.
The exhibition is located on the lowest floor of the West Pavilion, meaning that visitors descend into a dark, interior space after ascending to the promontory from which the Getty commands panoramic views of the sun-drenched city. Whether deliberate or not, the sudden contrast sets the mood well for Koudelka’s work, which reminds us how much we who have grown to freedom have to be thankful for–and how much we stand to lose.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak